My fiancé was never taught to feel, communicate, or apologize. Now we’re learning together.
I met Nate (not his real name) during a reckless phase, a time when I was picking the wrong guys and downing bottle after bottle of Chardonnay on dates. I was madly attracted to banter and wit, to the charm of potential. I set my sights on extreme intellect and picked the person with whom I could book battle with. The men I dated knew I didn’t wear panties, because I told them. Slurred it actually, thinking that was connection. In any event, the behaviors I mastered were preventing me from finding what I really wanted: my twinflame, the life partner who would light a fire in my heart every time me brought me coffee and eggs in bed.
Nate was the polar opposite of the Slick Ricks I had courted in my absurd youth: He listened. He had a genuine curiosity for my heart and well-being, which was absent from prior suitors. He gave a shit. He was selfless. I had never met a man with such integrity. I never had to worry about his intentions, his location, or his motive. We courted quickly, so quickly, in fact, that we both had this gobsmacked look on our face, a look of “Are we really doing this?” We moved in promptly, and one hot July evening, after much red wine and a 27th cigarette, I mentioned having a baby. He peeled off my clothes, and two weeks later, two big pink lines sealed my fate. No longer was I a bar-star hooligan chasing assholes who had nine Britneys in their phones. I was going to get my family with this guy who had shaken me to the core.
In the fun of doing life backwards, there will always be surprises and dropped bombs that you may have not seen coming in the haze of beer, nachos, and thrice-daily sex. Things shift when you go from continually buzzed and completely hairless to wearing his hoodie without brushing your teeth for two days. In our case, it happened within three months. We were having a boy and Nate was elated. But now, we couldn’t sit on patios dipping the wine bottle upside down to alert the waiter that yes, we would like another one. Cigarettes were gone. Life was in equal parts thrilling and boring and it was odd to do it with a pseudo-stranger.
Then came the demons.
We found out that Nate’s female role models had messed his head up. His mother had addiction issues and such severe postpartum that his visits with her would consist of cold mac and cheese while she slept on the couch. He lived with his father, and consequently new icy stepmother, who really just wished he wasn’t there. It took until Nate was in his early twenties for her to apologize for her indifference. Nate’s entire notion of women consisted of neglect and apathy. It was buried so deep that I could not even mention it without him giving me a grimace and a few stuttered words. I had to pull it out of him, hoping the trust was there.
Once the pregnancy progressed, I started to see some patterns emerge. He became depressed. Nate had found me, we had immediately created life, and yet he was miserable. Of course we fought. We took it out on each other and our bonded fantastical union was tested. But deep down I knew where his misery was coming from: his childhood, his subsequent problems with all female authority figures, and the fact that he’d never had a true connection with any prior girlfriends. I had friends telling me I had hit the jackpot, that Nate was amazing, and I think it was because he’d been waiting his whole life to find a woman to cherish him. So that’s what I tried to do.
But after our son was born, my fluctuating hormones and the stress of a new infant caused our egos to clash: who slept when, where did all our money (and time) go, why had the sex slowed down. We missed each other. I too, had succumbed to sorrows of postpartum depression, and when I wasn’t throwing coffee mugs because he put jam on my toast instead of butter, I was Anxiety Annie, questioning every move as a new mother. I was a raw nerve and I’ll bet that brought on some flashbacks for Nate.
Sex dwindled to nothing. He was sleeping on the couch—not as punishment, simply for convenience—and we became roommates. Once we saw that we were going down a slippery slope of becoming passing ships, we decided to shut the hell up and cherish each other. Our mantra was, “I choose you.” It was as if we needed to remind each other of our pact. We both knew we were bonded in a union we had barely planned but desperately wanted.
We are vulnerable with each other. There is no passive-aggressive anything. We lay it out. When men are hurt, they tend to bury, and I encourage (cough, demand) Nate to tell me what he is feeling. Even him admitting, “I am feeling an energy right now babe,” tells me he is leaning in and trying. Not every man had a mother figure tell him he is a phenomenal creature made of pure love. Most men never grew up meditating, talking their feelings out, apologizing. Most men were tough and strong and swallowed their pride when they felt their heart ache.
Loving a man with emotional baggage requires patience and sensitivity. It takes understanding that sometimes shitty things happen to remarkable people and now you must face the damage together, as a team. (Or not, this is up to you.) In my case Nate’s damage is wanting to come out; it is aching to be resolved. And his love for me is paramount. He writes me love letters at work when the line goes down. I fold his shirts and blow him just right. He talks about our wedding in Jamaica and how gorgeous I’ll look at sunset. I buy beer and rub his feet. At night, it isn’t just him drawing me a bubble bath; it’s a production of genuine romantic care. Bogart tactics. He allows me to heal his damage by acts of reciprocated chivalry.
Baggage is not abuse. Abuse is a crime and not an option. As someone who has come full-circle from an abusive ex, let me make it crystal clear: A man who’s been hurt is not the same as the husband who calls you a cunt and smacks you around because the dinner is cold. Of course, a hurt man could become an abuser, but in this case, my fiancé is just someone who did not have a lot of support from the women in his past.
I am lucky to understand a thing or two about relationships, and Nate was sent to me so I can help him surrender and release. As payback, I have no skeletons left either. This is as real as it gets. I understand that his love for me is separate from his inner struggle. The dark cloud that can appear is separate from his affection and care. You can tell when a man loves you; his eyes and energy are always on you. Pay attention to how he holds you, how his touch instantly calms. Be kind. Take your ego out of it. Keep your promises. Make love. It can be challenging to meet the man of your dreams only to sense baggage. But we all have baggage. To look at it squarely and say to yourself, “I dare you to love,” takes a hundred times more courage than hitting a club with a banter master who knows what kind of wine you like. And yields a hundred times more rewards.